Under new manager Roberto Martinez, Everton have experimented heavily with the 3-5-2 during this preseason. On Tuesday night at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, the Toffees were beaten 1-0 by Valencia in the Guinness International Champions Cup. Martinez had Everton set up tactically for the entire game in the 3-5-2 formation. England international Leighton Baines came on late in the match playing in a left wing back position rather than his traditional left back position in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 formation.
After the defeat versus Valencia last night, Martinez emphasized that these pre-season matches are the time to test different players, situations and formations.
“The preseason is a very important time to set the season ahead and I think we’ve been really fortunate to work in three different environments. We went to Austria and put in a lot of work. Then back to Everton and now here, we’ve been able to get a lot of information from all the players. This is when you have to see the partnerships and how players interact with each other.
“We had the opportunity to play against the best back three in the world, in the name of Juventus in the first game. Then we played against maybe the best counter-attacking football in Real Madrid and today we played against a very well structured and organized team who knows how to keep the ball, so it was a very good test. On top of that you have the humidity of Miami, which was very tough from a physical point of view.”
Joel Robles, who started for Martinez much of last season at Wigan while on-loan from Atletico Madrid, got the full 90 minutes of action Tuesday night versus Valencia. Robles who replaced the error prone Ali Al-Habsi for the Latics (Al-Habsi had been very good the previous two seasons for Wigan but poor last season) was hardly tested by Valencia in a match where the 3-5-2 frayed at times but didn’t give up many serious opportunities.
Since 2006, Everton’s number one goalkeeper has been American International Tim Howard. After the match speaking to World Soccer Talk, Howard said of the three man backline:
“It’s just another formation. Sorting it out requires communication as the key. As we move along I will get an indication from the manager (Roberto Martinez) of where he wants everyone to play. It just takes time but then is just like any other formation.”
More managers in English football have been using three at the back in certain match situations. In February 2011, Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke sprung a 3-5-2 on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, exposing the lack of width that Carlo Ancelloti’s side possessed, and came away with a smash and grab 1-0 victory. Last season, Roberto Mancini of Manchester City often used a 3-5-2 formation though it seemed incompatible with the squad he had and was resented by many of the fans. Steve Bruce guided Hull City through the Championship season in 2012-13 using the 3-5-2 frequently. Though he returned to a more familiar 4-4-2 for the final match against Cardiff, Hull’s automatic promotion back to the Premier League owed itself largely to the formation. Dalglish’s Liverpool successor Brendan Rodgers has also toyed with use of the 3-5-2 and he appears to be considering more regular implementation of the formation this season.
Everton have used its United States tour to assess new tactics, players and ideas. From that vantage point, Roberto Martinez probably has all the information he needs going into the season to set up his team wisely.